6 Popular 6-String Guitars For Playing Heavy Metal, Reviewed
You can play metal on almost any guitar but it makes a big difference when a guitar is built with metal in mind.
So, if you’re looking for a purpose built shred-machine, or a guitar for playing savage metal riffs – you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’ll be reviewing a number of popular 6-string electric guitars – perfectly suited for playing metal.
A few notes before we get started:
- I won’t be covering extended range guitars such as 7 strings or baritones) and all guitars in this list are factory setup in E standard. For those, be sure to check out my article on extended range guitars.
- This is an independent review. I was not sent any of these guitars. I either own or have tested every guitar on this list.
Let’s take a look at the guitars:
1. Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas
This Pro-Mod San Dimas was the first Charvel I managed to get my hands on.
I’ve always digged Fender Strats, which is probably why I was so attracted to this guitar. Well, also the looks – white body, Maple board, and gold hardware? Yes please!
We’ve got the Alder body, S-type body, and even a fully licensed Strat headstock. They’re even owned by Fender.
So it’s a Fender Strat….
… Only joking – it really isn’t. From a tonal perspective, the Pro-Mod and the Stratocaster are miles apart.
My review of the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas (pictured above):
Picking up this guitar for the first time was like being reunited with an old friend. Despite being the first Charvel I’ve played and having a few issues.
The setup in general was solid apart from the intonation – a straightforward fix though.
The main issue I encountered was that this guitar shipped with a dirty fretboard. Sure, it’s par for the course with unfinished necks (well, oiled necks technically) but I haven’t managed to get rid of it. Fortunately it’s not too noticeable.
In terms of playability though, I was immediately impressed. The neck is thin but not too thin. And the locking tuners make string changes a breeze.
What about the tones? This guitar is loaded with A set of Seymour Duncan pickups. A JB in the bridge, and a ‘59 in the neck. They’re pretty hot so delivering brain melting high gain riffs won’t be a problem.
I found these pickups to be better suited to classic rock tones, but they can handle the entire spectrum – even blues. For metal, I do prefer the Seymour Duncan Distortion pickups though.
It’s also worth noting that this is a 22 fret guitar. Scale length is 25.5” so putting it into lower tunings won’t be an issue, especially if you throw on some thicker strings.
And while you may expect this to come with a 5-way switch, it’s a 3 way switch, with the middle position acting as a coil-split.
I’ve currently got mine setup in E flat and it’s my go-to for playing classic rock.
If you’re after a hot-rodded Strat, the Charvel Pro-Mod is well worth checking out.
Alternatives in this range:
The Strat shape is known as “Style 1” in this range. Charvel have a few different options of colours, bridge types (fixed or Floyd), and neck woods. And a few left handed versions.
They also have the Pro-Mod in “Style 2”, which is a Tele shape. They have a bunch of different options in that range too – including a 7 string.
If you prefer having 24 frets, be sure to check out the DK24 range.
2. Jackson Pro Soloist
The Jackson brand is synonymous with the metal genre. My first experience with the brand was more than 10 years ago now when I owned a Jackson Warrior.
In terms of price, the Jackson Pro range is on par with the Ibanez Premium and Charvel Pro-Mod.
I’ve owned a few Jackson’s lower in the range over the years, and the Pro range is a serious step up. Not just in how the guitar feels, but in features.
As with the Charvel, Schecter, and Chapman, you get locking tuners – always helpful for quick string changes.
And you get a pair of hot Seymour Duncan Distortion pickups. Great for classic rock and metal.
My review of the “Jackson Pro Soloist SL2Q HT” (pictured above):
The setup on this guitar was rock-solid. However, I picked this up from my local store and they typically do a setup on every guitar they comes into the store, so take from that what you will. Either way, I was happy with it.
There were a few cosmetic imperfections on the guitar – one mark behind the neck and the routing for the pickups could have been done better. And the fret work could have been slightly better – I could feel the bottom of the frets slightly as I ran my hand down the guitar, but it was hardly noticeable and I can’t tell when I’m actually playing the guitar. So, nothing major there.
I went for the fixed bridge version. I much prefer them to Floyd Roses but they’re an option within this range if that’s your thing.
Together with the locking tuners, the tuning stability on this guitar is spot on.
The Seymour Duncan Distortion pickups are hot so you’ll have plenty of gain on tap (with the right amp, of course). I wasn’t so much a fan of the clean tones with these pickups, but that’s definitely not what I bought it for. Once I cranked the gain, these pickups sounded brutal.
What about playability? This guitar plays great. The neck is nice and thin. I’d say a bit thinner than the Ibanez. And comes with a compound radius fretboard, similar to the Charvel.
The neck is only oiled which I prefer and you get a neck-through body.
Overall, while the QC could have been slightly better, all the important elements that make up this guitar are there. It’s quite the shred-machine!
Alternatives in this range:
Fuchsia Burst isn’t the most “metal” looking colour but it was the only one my local guitar shop had at the time (no, really!)
If that colour isn’t your speed, they have a bunch of different options. Some of which are in different configurations. For example, you’ll find fixed bridges, Floyd Rose trem’s, and a 7 string. And a few signature models from the likes of Mick Thompson and Chris Broderick.
3. Schecter Hellraiser Hybrid
The Hellraiser Hybrid range from Schecter combines features from the Hellraiser and SLS ranges.
They’re typically available in two finishes – a transparent black burst and ultraviolet. And a number of shapes and configurations. That includes a T-style version, if that’s your thing.
Ultraviolet is an unusual colour. Depending on how you look at it, it could be blue or it could be purple. Maybe a bit of both.
Like the Chapman, you get a thru-neck, a great carved top, and useful features such as locking tuners, and even glow-in-the-dark side dots. The Schecter however, comes with a set of EMG 57/66 pickups.
My review of the Schecter Hellraiser Hybrid C-1 (pictured above):
Similar to the Chapman, the setup out of the box was rock-solid. I expected the build quality to be similar since they’re made in the factory – and it was. So that’s a good note in terms of consistency from the folks that build these guitars.
This was my first Schecter so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m used to playing fairly thin necks and the spec for this guitar said “Ultra Thin C Shape”. In reality, the neck was thicker than expecting. I’m more used to Ibanez necks, so if you’re the same, it’s something worth noting about Schecter.
The guitar didn’t come with a case, but considering the spec, that wasn’t an issue for me.
So, what about the tone?
The EMG 57/66 Alnico V pickups sound refined with plenty of clarity. They’re articulate, and as you might expect, are capable of some brutal tones. But, they’re capable of a lot more than just metal. I’m usually not a fan of the lack of dynamics with actives, but these pickups were a pleasant surprise. By far, they’re one of the best sets of EMG’s I’ve tried so far.
Alternatives in this range:
Schecter offer a lot of variations for each range, and the Hellraiser Hybrid is no different.
You’ve got a few different options for body shapes – including T-style. And different options for bridges, including Floyd’s, if that’s your thing.
A few models ship with a Floyd Rose and a Sustainiac pickup in the neck.
You’ve also got 7 and 8 string models and a bunch of left-handed versions. Including left-handed 7 and 8 string versions.
Now, this range in particular is a combination of the spec of their Hellraiser and SLS ranges. So, if you like the Hybrid and want more colour options, or pickups – be sure to check those ranges out. The SLS range comes loaded with Fishman Fluence pickups!
Just be aware that while these ranges look quite similar in shape, guitars will come with different pickups, and neck shapes – as well as some other differences.
4. Ibanez RG
Ibanez is best known for it’s RG line of guitars. And the “Premium” version represents their highest quality Indonesian made guitars.
So, the RG Premium is a mid-tier guitar, sitting between their standard Indonesian line, and Prestige line made in Japan. Although, they’ve introduced a bunch of other lines in-between such as Iron Label (I’ll be covering an RG Iron Label later in this post).
I have a history with Ibanez guitars. One of my first guitars was an Ibanez Gio and for years, my go-to guitar was an Ibanez SA series.
This Ibanez RG Premium was the first Ibanez I’d bought in years. And despite how popular the RG model is, I’d never picked one up before this.
My review of the Ibanez RG721FM-BIF Premium (pictured above):
I picked up this guitar directly from the store, so it’s difficult to say how good the factory setup was. But it played great. No fret buzz or any of that madness. And the fretwork was extremely well done.
The basswood body is light and it’s extremely comfortable to play. I’m used to skinny Ibanez necks so this was a great fit.
What about pickups? In this particular model, we have a pair of CAP-VM’s made by Ibanez. They’re not super hot pickups like those found in other guitars on this list, so you may find yourself needing to crank the gain more but they are versatile.
And while light on features such as locking tuners (although newer premium models do have them), this guitar did not disappoint.
Alternatives in this range:
Now, while the current Ibanez RG Premium range is limited, the RG line in general is not.
There is plenty of variety including various pickups, finishes, bridge types, and number of strings. A number of RG’s have 7 string equivalent. And you’ll also find a few 8 strings and a 9 string amongst the range.
If you like the RG, it’s also worth checking out the RGD and RGA lines – these are similar to the RG but with slightly different body shapes, and different specs.
You’ll also find a few models with Fishman Fluence Modern, and Bare Knuckle pickups.
Although, left-handed Ibanez models in general are very scarce.
5. Ibanez RG Iron Label
I’ve always associated the Ibanez RG with metal, but this newer line is that bit more focused on metal.
So, if you’re used to the regular RG guitars, you’ll feel right at home on an Iron Label – they feel very similar.
RG Iron Label guitars typically feature DiMarzio Fusion Edge pickups, or EMG’s. I went down the route of choosing the EMG loaded guitar in flat black – it’s a symphony of evil.
My review of the “Ibanez RGIR30BFE Iron Label” (pictured above):
When the guitar was delivered, it was clear the guitar had been sitting around for a while. The strings were in horrible condition and the setup wasn’t great.
That could be down to Ibanez, but I’d have expected the retailer to at least check the guitar over before sending it out. It appears they didn’t.
One thing I discovered by accident; the paint on the headstock is incredibly thin. When changing strings I grazed the headstock slightly and took off a chunk of paint.
Upon inspecting the fretboard, it clearly needed a clean. And I could feel the bottom of the frets while running my fingers down the bottom of the fretboard. Not too noticeable but it was an issue.
The rest of the guitar looked in good shape. The EMG pickups are hot and maintain clarity when you crank the gain. I’m not big on active pickups – I prefer the organic tone of passives more, but having the extra gain on tap can be a good thing. If that’s not your thing, the RG Iron Label is available with DiMarzio Fusion Edge pickups instead.
But the feature I really loved was the killswitch. I’ve never liked how some active pickups will always be drawing power as long as a cable is connected. The killswitch solved that issue and can be useful when playing.
Gotoh locking tuners were included too. It seems they’re becoming a standard for a lot of mid-tier (and above) guitars that Ibanez produce.
I ended up taking the guitar to my local tech who did a full setup. The playability was great afterwards. Overall, this wasn’t an ideal experience but it was a decent guitar for the money and sounds killer (at least, to my ears).
Alternatives in this range:
The RG Iron Label range is fairly limited but does currently include a 9 string, and a few 7 string options. There are alternate pickup options, and some come with a Floyd Rose.
And sadly, no love for lefties right now (c’mon, Ibanez!) – this is where Schecter has Ibanez beat.
Going outside the RG Iron Label range, you’ll find some other lines such as the RGA and RGD. These are based on the RG range and feel very similar to play.
Both are well suited to metal. The RGD range features down-tuned guitars right out of the factory, and bigger scale lengths.
Alternatively, you could go up a step further and choose one of the newer Axion Label guitars (in both RGA and RGD lines). Some of these guitars feature Bare Knuckle or Fishman Fluence pickups, and some multi-scale variations.
6. Chapman ML1 Pro Modern
If you’ve watched any of Rob Chapman’s (AKA Chappers) videos on YouTube, chances are you’ll have seen this guitar in a bunch of videos.
What I love about this guitar and Chapman Guitars in general, is that you get a lot of bang for your buck.
A great looking S-type guitar with a carved top. Stainless steel frets, ebony fretboard, bookmatched woods and a maple cap.
The hardware you’ll find on this guitar is far better than you’d expect for the price. Hipshot locking-tuners. Hipshot bridge, Graph Tech nut, strap locks, and a hard case.
Not to mention the Chapman Sonorous humbucking pickups. These pickups are brutal.
My review of the Chapman ML1 Pro (pictured above):
I’ve been impressed by every South Korean made guitar I’ve tried. Out of the box, the setup was spot on, and the guitar feels great to play. It’s right up there with guitars that cost twice the price.
The neck is fairly thin but not as thin as some Ibanez guitars I’ve played which is a good thing.
The rolled fret edges, ergonomic body carves, crazy upper fret access, and brutal gain tones make this a joy to play. This is one magnificent axe to wield!
Despite the Chapman ML1 Pro being mostly geared towards metal, it’s more versatile than you might think. The Sonorous pickups offer well-balanced tone that works great for metal, and they’re pretty high output.
It’s one of the best guitars I’ve tried in this price bracket.
Want to learn more? Check out my full Chapman ML1 Pro Modern review.
Alternatives in this range:
The Chapman ML1 Pro is available in several different flavours. Aside from the “Sun” color pictured above, you can get it in “Lunar” (dark grey/black).
You can also get a left handed version in Dusk (blue) and a right handed 7 string version in Lunar or Unicorn Burst.
If single coils are your thing, there’s a Traditional version with SSS pickup configuration available in White and Natural.
And there is an Indonesian made Standard range of guitars available. While you sacrifice the spec’s of the Pro range (stainless steel frets, locking-tuners, etc), they are a lot more budget friendly.
Wrapping it up (and a few frequently asked questions)
Are there other great guitars for playing metal out there? You bet! But out of the guitars I’ve personally tried, these are some of my favourites.
Here are a few things to remember when choosing your next guitar, especially if you don’t have the option to try before you buy:
- Neck shape – Schecter guitars have a noticeably thicker neck profile. The likes of Jackson, Chapman, Ibanez, etc have thinner necks. This is completely down to personal preference, so consider what you’ll find most comfortable.
- Build quality – From the guitars on this list, the Chapman, Schecter, and Ibanez Premium (not the regular RG), had the best build quality by far. They could compete with much more expensive guitars.
- Pickups – Active or passive pickups? This is completely down to personal preference. I like the extra gain from an active pickup, but I prefer how organic passive pickups feel.
- Tuning – The guitars I reviewed on this list are factory setup in E standard. Although some Ibanez Iron Label variations will come factory setup in different tunings.
- Guitar amp – A big part of your tone will come from your amp, so you need the right one for the job. Be sure to check out my post on popular tube amps for playing metal.
Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your musical journey.